Texas teams shine in Keystone State last week
Baseball fans from the Lone Star State had reason to feel proud of their major league and Little League teams in last week’s action in two different sections of the state of Pennsylvania.
Our Houston Astros, who are going nowhere fast as far as the upcoming playoffs are concerned, hit the Keystone State in the middle of their 10-game road trip last week for a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies, who are fighting like crazy to secure at least the National League wild card berth if they fail to overtake the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
And the scrappy Pearland Little League team representing the Southwestern Region at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. fought their way to the finals in the National Division of the 16-team double-elimination tournament.
The baseball junkies had a field day watching both of these Texas teams in action on television last week playing a brand of baseball that was chock-full of exciting action and some real good strategy.
The Pearland team, managed by Mike Orlando, rolled past Plymouth, Minn. of the Midwest Region 10-8 in the opening round and then whipped Fairfield, Conn. of the New England Region by the 10-run mercy rule 14-1 and became the only team in either of the two U.S. Pools to be undefeated after two rounds.
Last Wednesday Pearland met once-defeated Auburn, Wash. of the Northwest Region and led 4-1 in the early going before the Washington lads rallied to get within one run of Pearland on a single by Ikaika Nahaku that had the tying run advance to third on the hit.
Nahaku rounded first and headed for second even though the throw already was in the Pearland infield. Nahaku stopped about 10 feet from second base in hopes of getting caught in a rundown to allow the tying run to score from third base.
Pearland took the bait and fired the ball toward second base, only to throw it wildly over the second baseman’s head and into right field. Nahaku sprinted to third and kept right on going home, giving Auburn its first lead, 5-4. Auburn later tacked on two more runs and won the game 7-4, putting the two teams into an elimination game the next day.
In the crucial game where the loser goes home, Pearland found itself down four runs after the first inning. Manager Mike Orlando kept telling his charges that if they kept plugging good things would happen.
The team finally bought into his optimism in the fourth inning and they scored three times to trail by only a run, 4-3. Pearland pitcher Mason Van Noort, who surrendered the four runs on five hits in the first inning, bore down the rest of the way and allowed only one run and three hits the rest of the way.
Auburn scored making it 5-3 going into the top of the sixth and final inning. But the Auburn manager made the fatal mistake of bringing his son, Ikaika to the mound to get the save. This Korner believes that is one of the big weaknesses of Little League baseball—a coach trying to make a hero out of his son.
But Ikaika walked lead-off batter Beau Orlando and then uncorked a pair of wild pitches, moving Orlando to third. He scored moments later on a single by Blake Toler, who ended up at third after two more wild pitches by the Auburn coach’s son.
Van Noort then helped his own cause with a two-run homer that put Pearland ahead 6-5. Pearland added an insurance run and then had to make a couple of outstanding defensive plays to quell an Auburn rally in the bottom of the sixth and advanced to the U.S. championship game Saturday.
Pearland’s opponent in the championship game was Waipahu, Hawaii, which means that Pearland was the best team from the mainland United States. The Hawaiian team proved to be too much for Pearland, which suffered a 10-0 blanking.
The Astros’ adventure in Philadelphia didn’t have an unhappy ending. Although Houston was a distinct underdog in all four games, they played as if they were in the post-season playoffs. The ‘Stroes silenced the sellout crowds in all four games by handing the Phillies their first four-game sweep in the seven-year-old Citizens Bank Park.
In the opener on Aug.23, Astro’s leadoff batter Michael Bourn helped manufacture a pair of runs, the second coming after a clutch pinch-single by Jason Michaels in the eighth inning.
With Michaels on third and Bourn on second, the Phillies’ braintrust elected to pitch to Carlos Lee with first base open and he delivered a broken-bat single, driving in both runs and giving the Astros their 3-2 victory.
We classify Tuesday’s second game as perhaps one of the best Astros’ victories ever, despite relief ace Wilton Lopez failing to protect a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, surrendering a two-out, two-strike game-tying home run to Jimmy Rollins to send the game into extra innings.
Houston didn’t have either Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon available for this game so manager Brad Mills called on untested Fernando Abad to pitch in the 10th inning, and he surrendered only one hit in his two inning stint.
Next was Mark Melancon, who came to the Astros in the Lance Berkman trade and he mowed down the Phillies in his three-inning stint. Jeff Fulchino came in and struck out power-hitter Ryan Howard to end the 15th inning and Howard disputed his checked-swing and got tossed out of the game.
This presented a huge problem for Phils’ manager Charlie Manuel, because he had used every position player on his roster and needed a first baseman. Left fielder Raul Ibanez moved to first and Manuel put former Astros’ ace pitcher Roy Oswalt in left field to start the 16th inning.
Ironically, Houston scored two runs in the 16th inning without hitting a ball out of the infield. Hunter Pence beat out an infield hit and Brett Wallace was hit by a pitch. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, so Michaels was walked intentionally to load the bases with no outs.
Chris Johnson dribbled a slow roller to short, but the throw to second was late, with Pence scoring to break the tie, 3-2. Tommy Manzella hit into a force play, scoring Wallace.
Fulchino issued a pair of walks and with two down Mills elected to intentionally walk Chase Utley and face Oswalt with the bases loaded. Roy O. grounded out meekly to third, giving the Astros a 4-2 win and crediting Fulchino with the mound victory.
Mills said after the game that he was real proud of the youngsters who contributed to the win that don’t have much major league experience. “They did great under fire,” the skipper commented.
The Astros went on to win another nail-biter Wednesday 3-2 and completed the sweep Thursday afternoon with a solid 5-1 win.
Neither the Houston Astros nor Pearland came back from Pennsylvania as champions, but they did show those folks up there that football isn’t the only sport in which Texans excel.
KWICKIES…Sunset Grove Country Club pro Jeff Cooper said there still are some openings in this weekend’s annual Labor Day Tournament and will welcome any late entries. For further information contact the pro shop at (409)-883-9454.
And while on the subject of Sunset Grove, there were a pair of holes-in-one recently. Glynn Aldredge got his second in just a few weeks, acing No. 14 again with a hybrid club and Dave McClenan aced the Par 3 No. 3 hole.
It’s down to around 72 hours before Lamar University resumes football after a hiatus since 1989 when the Cardinals cross the Sabine River to meet the always-tough McNeese State Cowboys in Lake Charles Saturday night. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Louis Bonnette Field in Cowboy Stadium.
JUST BETWEEN US…A poll conducted by msn.com which ranked 33 NFL rookies had Orange’s Earl Thomas No. 5, ahead of Tennessee’s Eric Berry who was the No. 3 overall pick in the recent draft. Thomas has eight solo tackles so far in the exhibition season. And this poll was done BEFORE Thomas intercepted Hall of Fame-bound Brett Favre’s second period pass Saturday night and ran it back 86 yards for Seattle’s only touchdown in Minnesota’s Metrodome. Although Favre struggled in the game, the Vikings beat Seattle 24-13.